Turtles Can Fly

Dir: Bahman Ghobadi, 2005. Starring: S. Ebrahim, A. Latif, S. H. Feysal, H. F. Rahman. Kurdish. Asian/Drama/War.

Bahman Ghobadi, an Iranian director, is one who chooses to make a film about a subject matter that is not quite openly discussed today – in Turtles Can Fly, his impressive second directorial feature, he weaves a youthful tale set along the border between Iraq and Turkey.

The story follows a young boy, Satellite, nicknamed for installing television receivers in his minefield town of makeshift tents and tanks. He is part of a group of refugee children who expectantly await the war. This group of kids was placed in this area by Saddam Hussein and they find ways to work through Satellite’s leadership. In the midst of his tragedy, Satellite occupies himself with other duties – calling meetings, arranging work – essentially becoming the ringleader of the children. Among the children are the Boy With No Arms, and teenage girl Agrin, who accompanies a younger blind boy. The children’s fate, warranted by the end of the story, is a grim look at Kurdish experiences during the Iraq war and a collective of memories that don’t necessarily make any sense.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Apr 8, 2009 1:36pm

Masculin Féminin

Dir: Jean-Luc Godard, 1966. Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Chantal Goya,Marléne Jobert, Michel Debord. French. Foreign.

Playing with sound and image, image without sound and sound without image. White text over black. Questions answered by the opposite sex in the form of questions. French New Wave icons. Gunshots and the symbolic separation of fifteen acts. In classic Godard narrative form, the film searches for the line between the male and female and proposes a parallel of these relationships to social problems in contemporary times.

Godard has the ability to make a conversation half a film. That’s not exactly the case here, but I’m not far off. Sometimes scenes like that may seem long and tedious but here, somehow, it’s never dull and never without style. Meet Paul and Madeleine. Hardly ever in contemporary film can we observe and study characters in such casualty. Yet even in casualness their interaction bridges on the topic of more tangible matters – Bob Dylan, her reaction to his approach, a play on words... Later, Paul’s interrogation towards other women explore heavy topics – from sex to birth control, to views towards Capitalist America, to the concerns of Vietnam War. We may not agree with Paul’s views or the female’s answers, but Godard’s antics do leave something to be desired. Society is reviewed in a brutally honest form in this modern time and still to this day I can relate.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Mar 5, 2009 1:20pm

Lords of Dogtown

Dir: Catherine Hardwicke, 2005. Starring: Heath Ledger, John Robinson, Emile Hirsch, Nikki Reed. English. Drama.

I'm slightly envious of Stacy Peralta for not only conquering the professional skateboarding world but also for his career as a filmmaker. These two industries, in the general sense, do not correlate, but he manages to find the bridge. The result? A fantastic documentary about the legendary Z-Boys skate team in 1970s Venice named Dogtown Z-Boys, a 2004 documentary chronicling the evolution of big wave surfing called Riding Giants, and a biographical feature film about the Z-Boys journey titled Lords of Dogtown. Peralta penned the screenplay himself, with Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen and Twilight) directing.

The film, while written with obvious yet needed nostalgia, is action-packed full of skateboarding glamour, parties, competitions, strained friendships, and the intensity of male adolescent energy. The plot is loose and without any specific thread other than to chronicle the history of what happens to the Zephyr Skate Team from the beginning of their surfing days to the point where they meet again after the start of their separate careers. The lack of any overbearing plot creates an enjoyable, fast-paced energy that captures a certain spirit of the pioneering skate culture from the 70s.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Feb 17, 2009 4:31pm

Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains

Dir: Lou Adler, 1981. Starring: Diane Lane, Ray Winstone, Laura Dern, Peter Donat, Barry Ford. English. Cult.

Surely you remember the riot grrl movement of the 90s – it was hard to forget the underground feminists creating their own DIY scene and giving rise to a resurgence in punk.

Well, here we have an 80s film that was often referenced by those riot grrls.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jan 21, 2009 4:20pm

The 400 Blows

Director: François Truffaut. 1959. Starring: Jean-Pierre Léaud. French. Foreign.

The power of black and white film in an autobiographical story never ceases to be emotional and meaningful. The English title of French New Wave director Fran̤ois Truffaut's film The 400 Blows is unfortunately a literal translation that overlooks the meaning of the phrase "faire les quatre cents coups." The main character of the film is a thirteen-year-old boy named Antoine Doinel, who does exactly that Рraises hell, or causes disruption within a society of order. Truffaut has a unique and undeniably intelligent way of filmmaking that is showcased in this personal film.

Our protagonist is as mysterious as he is mischievous. That is his essential charm – a young figure full of paradigms and intrigues. The beauty of the film lies in the fact that we follow him without obvious or over-the-top plot moves. The viewer is able to simply observe and be with Antoine in his exploration of a being a French adolescent. Antoine enters a life of crime and trouble making. He is scolded by his teacher, he discovers his mother is having an affair, and engages in stealing. He is punished and misunderstood by adults. There is no perfect answer for this boy, and this film proves there is no need for that. Truffaut allows us instead to enter a boy's intimate moments in visceral and dreamlike states.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Dec 31, 2008 1:41pm

The Fog of War

Dir: Errol Morris. 2003. Starring: Robert S. McNamara. English. Documentary.

We hear Robert S. McNamara's voice before we actually see him – then he tells the director, "I don't want to go back and introduce the sentence because I know exactly what I want to say." McNamara is candid, opinionated, and passionate – qualities appropriate and endearing from America's former Secretary of Defense, under President Kennedy and President Johnson.

Here Errol Morris offers us a former leader of America's military force's inside knowledge in our nation's war-driven period from the Cold War to the Vietnam War. Some of the information McNamara reveals is astounding. What moved me was that, in the film, he is emotional and intimate – I felt privileged to be able to hear what this historical figure had to say. He explained the results of our actions in several aspects – from the statistical numbers our position in war has had on our daily lives, the impact of our technological weapons, and his own position on being our Secretary of Defense.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Nov 8, 2008 4:46pm

War Dance

Directors: Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. 2007. English (subtitles). Documentary / Black Cinema.

Recent attention to the children's situation in war-torn Uganda has been spoken about in art events and documentaries such as Invisible Children, and there's a reason for that – international events, especially in Africa, are becoming more and more cared for as history school books fail to cover these contemporary aspects of our global issues.

War Dance, Sean and Andrea Fine's documentary about children competing in the Kampala Music Festival, has been received ambivalent critical review. New York Times' Stephen Holden sums up the conflict:  the film "is so gorgeous that its beauty distracts from the anguish it reveals… in spite of its slickness, is an honorable, sometimes inspiring exploration of the primal healing power of music and dance in an African tribal culture."

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Sep 13, 2008 2:51pm

To Joy (Till Glädje)

Dir: Ingmar Bergman. 1950. Starring: Stig Olin, Maj-Britt Nilsson,Victor Sjöström. Swedish. Foreign.

"Music is the goal, not the means."

Few films capture the simplicities of what is important in an artist's life. The title is taken from Schiller's "Ode to Joy," fitting for this story concerning two orchestral players. Stig is a dissatisfied musician, hating the idea of living in mediocrity, while Marta is a beautiful lady who basks in the simple joys of life. She steals Stig's hardened heart in spite of himself, and they eventually get married. He struggles with his ability to play as a violin soloist. His ambitions consume him to the point where he loses sight of his wife's patience and care. We've all seen this inner torment from the viewpoint of a husband/musician plenty of times – any biopic of an artist will tell that story. Yet what stands out about this film is Bergman's ability to portray the main character in all his flaws and weaknesses, and there's absolutely no glamour or flashiness attached. The result? Honest, rich sentiment.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Sep 13, 2008 2:34pm

Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales

Dir: Eric Rohmer. 1971. Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Francoise Fabian. French. Foreign, Criterion.

French New Wave director Eric Rohmer possessed a literary side not to be ignored. He wrote Six Moral Tales before he became a director. The six stories, included in the DVD box set, are perceptive modern age sensibilities dripped with moral reservations. They end without euphoric conclusions; more of wordless losses or gains, and yet that is the charm of them. They leave you with a sense of discomposure, like dreams cut off at the strangest moment, trailing into a world of thoughts nestling within oceans of principled questions.

This literary side of Rohmer's became a flourishing group of work when, upon entering the world of filmmaking, he decided to turn them into films. Each film in its own entitlement has a unique feel and purpose. When placed within a collective, the themes are stronger, more contemplative, and the characters more complicated in the tangle of moral dilemmas. And the films are steady, paced as humanly possible. These stories are vignettes of French young life in the 60s and early 70s through the eyes of Rohmer, who delightfully posits philosophical and intellectual challenges with the characters' accounts. Also notable is his careful style that is subtle and devoid of classic cinema's devices – lacking non-diegetic music, avoiding the full-face close-up, engaging the viewer in a character's everyday lifestyle, etc.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jul 19, 2008 3:21pm

The Pianist

Dir: Roman Polanski. 2002. Starring: Adrien Brody. English. War.

Moving pictures concerning WWII concentration camps have a tendency to romanticize the subject matter, and probably for good reason. But since Polanski experienced it for himself, the film naturally becomes personal for the viewer. The Pianist is filled with raw intensity and beautiful storytelling. Instead of focusing on the account of such an incredible turning point of world history, Polanski chooses to emphasize human character, conditions, flaws and strengths.

The story is based on the memoir of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jewish pianist who performed for Polish Radio and composed classical and popular music. His survival in the Holocaust is an incredible and moving tale. There is no way to define the tragedies of the Nazi march through Poland in any simple terms, but here is a film that depicts an intimate portrait of one who has traversed the witnessing of human death, loss of career, home, and family, and the persecution among his own race.

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Posted by:
Tiffany Huang
Jul 19, 2008 3:15pm
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